Oseola McCarty (1908-1999)
She is one of the most amazing women in the world who is inspired by millions of people around the world for her donation of $150,000 for the scholarship of the University of Southern Mississippi. While this may not have been the largest single donation the school ever received,what was unique was that she had saved the money over the course of her life time from her modest earnings washing other people’s clothes.
Oseola McCarty was born, reared and started her education in Mississippi. When she was in the sixth grade, McCarty left school to care for her ailing aunt and never returned to school. For more than 75 years, she earned her living as a laundress. She did laundry for three generations of some Hattiesburg, Miss., families.
McCarty never owned a car; she walked everywhere she went, pushing a shopping cart nearly a mile to get groceries. She rode with friends to attend services at the Friendship Baptist Church. She did not subscribe to any newspaper, considering the expense an extravagance. Similarly, although she owned a black and white television, she only received transmissions via the airways. In 1947, her uncle gave her the house in which she lived until her death. She also received some money from her aunt and mother when they died, which she also placed into savings.
“I want to help somebody’s child go to college,” she said after announcing the donation. Her gift endowed the Oseola McCarty Scholarship. “I’m too old to get an education, but they can.” When asked about her ability to save so much money she says simply, “I didn’t buy things I didn’t need, The Lord helped me, and he’ll help you, too. It’s an honor to be blessed like that.”
In 1998, she was awarded an honorary degree from USM, the first such degree awarded by the university. She received scores of awards and other honors recognizing her unselfish spirit, and President Bill Clinton presented her with a Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award, during a special White House Ceremony. She also won the United Nations’ coveted Avicenna Medal for educational commitment. In June 1996, Harvard University awarded McCarty an honorary doctorate alongside Maya Lin, Walter Annenberg, and Judith Jameson.
She passed away Sept. 26, 1999 from a cancer leaving a golden lesson of simplicity for all of us. A collection of McCarty’s views on life, work, faith, saving, and relationships can be found in her book, Simple Wisdom for Rich Living, published by Longstreet Press in 1996.
Oseola McCarty, a Washerwoman Who Gave All She Had to Help Others, Dies at 91
Published: September 28, 1999
In anticipation of her death, she decided in the summer of 1995 to give away most of her life savings, saying there was nothing in particular she wanted to buy and no place in particular she wanted to go. An only child who had outlived her relatives, she lived a solitary existence, surrounded by rows of clothes she made pretty for people who knew her only as the washerwoman.
”I’m giving it away so that the children won’t have to work so hard, like I did,” she said in July 1995.
She did not want any monuments, any proclamations, said people who knew her. But the selflessness of her gift would bring her worldwide attention. The woman who had gone out only for some preaching at the Friendship Baptist Church in Hattiesburg and to buy groceries would be honored by the United Nations, would shake hands with President Clinton and would receive more than 300 awards. People all over the world knew who she was and what she did.
The woman who acted in anticipation of death found a life she could have never imagined. She flew on a plane for the first time in her life and laughed out loud when the food did not fall off the tray as the plane rumbled through the sky. She stayed in a hotel for the first time in her life, and before she checked out, she made the bed.
”People treated her like a monument,” said Jewel Tucker, the secretary to the president of the university and Miss McCarty’s traveling companion in those almost giddy years after the gift. ”But she was really a movement. It will keep moving.”
Contributions from more than 600 donors have added some $330,000 to the original scholarship fund of $150,000. After hearing of Miss McCarty’s gift, Ted Turner, a multibillionaire, gave away a billion dollars.
”He said, ‘If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion,’ ” Ms. Tucker said.
If anyone can say they felt adoration in their life, Ms. Tucker said, Miss McCarty could. People would see her in airports and flock to her. Some people just wanted to touch her, as though she was good luck.
Along with all the plaques and trophies or other honors — she received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University — she was awarded other things that were pure fun.
In 1996, she carried the Olympic torch through part of Mississippi. Later that year, hers was the hand on the switch that dropped the ball in Times Square in New York’s New Year’s Eve celebration. In fact, she said at the time, it was the first time she had stayed up past midnight.
Miss McCarty will lie in state in the rotunda of the university’s main building on Saturday.